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  • Ellie Harrison

On Grief, Time And Old Films

I was listening to a programme on radio 4 and they were talking about romance in the movies. In the 30’s and 40’s every film had a love story and ended with a romantic kiss as the credits roll. The audience had waited two, maybe three hours to see this kiss. But then sex came in to it and once the characters could have sex then romance went out of the window. Why waste valuable screen time with romance when the audience are more interested in where it is going. It resonated with me. And increasingly I feel that the world is skipping the foreplay in a constant attempt to get down to it. We want it harder and faster, not in sex necessarily, but in life more generally. There is so much information being thrown at us that we don’t have time to enjoy it, to gradually get in the mood, to draw it out. Because the more time you invest in one film, one person, one activity, the slower you can move on to the next. What if you miss something? Skip to the beef.


As I watched the opening sequence of the film Harold and Maude (1971) I was surprised at how long it took for anything to happen. It tested my attention. The space the film had given me to savour it, was stunning. But I could feel my brain filling that space with ‘should I be watching a film at all when I have so much work?’ “I wish this film would hurry up so I can finish relaxing and get on with my ‘to do’ list”….it was all quite stressful, this relaxing, this savouring. In feeling hurried by my life, I found myself hurrying the film along. Because if I slow down, take time, take care and enjoy the slowness…will anyone join me? Will the rest of the world let me slow down? Will I let myself? Will I let others? Upon reflection I spend much of my life teaching young people the art of storytelling, of performance. I teach them how to communicate. And more often than not, I am teaching them to get rid of the unnecessary, to be concise and to the point. But I am not sure that in honing their skills that I am not killing off their observations, their uniqueness. Their delight in the mundane, their seemingly pointless observations. Surely to decide what is useful and what is not we must take time to look at everything. To survey, to take in. To examine the detail. Perhaps I sound old. Nostalgia has become very fashionable of late, knitting, cassette tapes. Vintage dresses are selling like hot cakes and having a particular liking for the 40’s and 50’s I rejoice. So we all look the part, we have the Cath Kidston cake stand and the Mad men style dress but the cupcakes were bought from Marks and Spencer’s because we ran out of time. It doesn’t matter, the result looks the same. Because making cakes, or knitting or making a patchwork quilt, it all takes time. And we need to earn money to maintain our lifestyle so we work longer hours….after all, vintage doesn’t come cheap. I would like to buy a matching sign that goes next to my red, metal, designer ‘Keep calm and carry on’ placard, that reads ‘look great and feel exhausted doing it’. I would like it to be a rally. We are dressed for it; we talk the talk so let’s engage with what we are doing and slow down. Enjoy the detail. And even though it is very un-British…admit defeat in the war against our own timetables.


I have spent much of my life grieving. And it has made me angry and very sad. Because as a society, we don’t factor the common occurrence of death, into our lives. Grieving is time consuming and it asks to be put at the top of our ‘to do’ lists. Above that strategic appearance at this meeting or that party. Above doing our banking. Some people listen to it. Demand space to grieve. I salute these people; they are perhaps, the happy few. But more and more frequently, people are ignoring it, squeezing it down to the bottom of the list after other seemingly unobtainable goals such as, having a holiday and spending more time with the family. And I look back and realise that grieving has been on my to do list for ten years. I don’t want grief to ruin my today, I don’t want it to ruin my birthday or Christmas or graduation so I let it ruin every tomorrow instead. Well, I am trying to get grieving to the top of my ‘to do’ list. Better late than never, I suppose. But a stich in time saves nine and if it were a dress I fear it would be beyond repair. Never mind, perhaps I can go to Primark and get a new one? No, it is a careful job of restoration, but maybe, after the time and effort it takes to repair it, it will be something worth hanging on to.


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